Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Hunter McGrady’s Mantra Will Power You Through Your Day

Growing up in Los Angeles, model Hunter McGrady, 26, was “always around cameras” — even before she started modeling. (Her mom is model Brynja McGrady and her dad is actor Michael McGrady.) “Every time a camera came on, I just lit up,” she recalls. “That was just where I thrived.”

Obviously, she still does: The size 16 model, best known for her appearances in Sports Illustrated’s® Swimsuit Issue (which she considers her big break), also recently landed the cover of The Knot® 2019 Fall Fashion Issue. These days, the body-positive advocate is praised for her curves. However, she was sent a much different message at the start of her career.

When McGrady was 14, her mother took her to a Los Angeles-based modeling agency. “I am six feet tall,” she explains. “[At the time,] I was about 114 lbs, about a size 2. They kept telling me to lose weight. It was just not something I could achieve,” she says. The experience inspired her to take some time off from modeling until she discovered the plus-size category, and signed with Wilhelmina® Models at 19. (She’s currently represented by ONE℠ Management.) “I was like, ‘Well, that’s an interesting thing,’” McGrady remembers. “I can still live my dream and do what I want to do, all while being in the body I’m supposed to be in.”

We chatted with McGrady while she was promoting DSW® Runway RedoneTM, a New York Fashion WeekTM show in partnership with Create & Cultivate®, in which women of all backgrounds, shapes, and sizes walked the runway wearing DSW’s new fall collection. During our interview, McGrady told us all about preparing for swimsuit photoshoots, the heartwarming messages she receives on a daily basis, and more.

Spotlyte: Do you have any advice for people who want to break into modeling?

Hunter McGrady: I say, “Go for it.” Look for the agencies that are in your area. It seems like there’s an agent in every area! Every agency has an open casting call. Don’t let what society tells you is beautiful hold you back, because that’s changing. That’s forever going to be changing, and you can be the person to break through that.

Spotlyte: Why was modeling for Sports Illustrated so monumental for you?

HM: I was the second plus-size model in it, after Ashley Graham. I’m the curviest model that’s ever been in it. Even that alone is such a huge, groundbreaking thing that I’m just so proud of. I hold that title near and dear to my heart because I grew up not seeing women like me. I knew what that opportunity was going to mean for women and men everywhere — to look at that and say, “Oh, I relate to her!” 

Spotlyte: Since your Sports Illustrated debut, have women and men reached out to you about your positive impact?

HM: It gave me a huge platform to speak about what I’m passionate about, which is inclusivity and diversity. I’m forever grateful for that. I’ve gotten so many messages throughout the years from women saying, “Because of you, I’ve been able to feel comfortable in my body,” and men saying, “Because of you, I’ve actually started not being so judgemental of plus-size women or women like you.” Thank god for that! I think it takes people to stand their ground and say, “I’m not going to change who I am, you have to adapt to me.” It’s been a wonderful, wild ride.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Hunter McGrady


Spotlyte: How often do people reach out?

HM: Every day, all day long. It’s the best feeling ever to feel that you’ve touched someone’s life, even if it’s in the [smallest] way, or a huge way. It’s such a blessing to know that.

Spotlyte: If you ever have moments of low confidence, do you have a mantra you tell yourself to get through it?

HM: My mantra that I use every single day, all day long, is “I am worthy.”

Spotlyte: Why is the feeling of worthiness so important? 

HM: A lot of us go through life feeling that we are unworthy, that we shouldn’t be in the position that we’re in, or we’re not worthy of success, or feeling beautiful — whatever it is. [The mantra] is something that I’ve been saying for the last five years. I say it probably 100 times per day.

Spotlyte: What makes you feel most confident?

HM: Getting out of the shower and being completely bare. I’ve come such a long way. I used to hate that. I used to be like, “Oh my God, you can see my stretch marks and my cellulite!” But I’ve learned to appreciate all of that. That’s when I feel the most beautiful, the most confident.

Spotlyte: How do you prepare for a Sports Illustrated shoot?

HM: Not too much went into it. I worked out with a trainer to tone up and get my self feeling right, and did yoga to meditate. I didn’t really want to change anything about me. I just wanted to feel good, because I knew it was going to be a long day. Of course, I did facials.

Spotlyte: Where and how often do you get facials?

HM: I go to Sia’s Beauty℠, and I go once a month, at least.

Spotlyte: What other beauty treatments are you into right now?

HM: I just got into facial acupuncture with Dr. Travall. He also does it in my head. It’s super healing. It calms me down and it’s good for your skin. 

Spotlyte: What is your stance on “anti-aging?”

HM: My stance is that it’s your body — do whatever the heck you want with it. It’s important that you know that you can quite literally do anything you want. Aging is always beautiful.